Saturday, January 7, 2012

City Council, January 9th - Words and Rhetoric

There are lots of interesting items related to transportation on Council's agenda this week. Many of them offer meanings that are not clear, though - they sound good, but what difference will they actually make? (How you read them may depend on whether your interpretive charity is feeling "half-full" or "half-empty.")

Central Salem Mobility Study

The City appears to be ready to go out with an RFP and select a consultant for the Central Salem Mobility Study. The proposal is loaded with things good for people who walk and bike! At the same time, some of the things to be studied are things we've talked about a lot, and the recommendation for further study is something of a punt. The upside is more talk gets more people comfortable and on board; the downside is we talk something to death and waste a study on blah-blah-blah.

Still, going from one-way to two-way streets would be huge, doing more for mobility and downtown vitality than perhaps any other single move.

The core of the study will be these three scenarios:
  • Two-way Street Conversions - High Street NE/SE, Church Street NE/SE, Cottage Street NE, Court Street NE, and State Street: Analyze the impacts of converting existing one-way streets to two-way for High Street NE/SE, Church Street NE/SE, Cottage Street NE, Court Street NE, and State Street. Some of the key issues to be addressed include vehicle delay, traffic volumes (in primary and secondary study area), impacts to on-street parking supply, impacts to transit operations (current and future), impacts to pedestrian circulation, bicycle facility improvements, turning movement restrictions, and cost to implement. In order to make the most efficient use of limited resources, an initial high-level review will be conducted to determine which street segments are the most viable candidates for conversion to two-way operation. The most viable street segments will then be given a higher priority for further analysis.
  • North Salem Big Blocks: Develop possible street configurations to support redevelopment of the north downtown area between Commercial Street NE, High Street NE, Division Street NE, and Market Street NE. At least one configuration will include extending Liberty Street NE to connect from Division Street NE to Belmont Street NE.
  • Pedestrian and Bicycle Access - Union Street Railroad Bridge: Evaluate possible options for creating a more direct and safe pedestrian and bicycle connection between downtown and the Union Street Railroad Bridge, and Riverfront Park.
If budget permits, additional scenarios in order of preference will also be analyzed:
1. Bicycle Circulation - Family Friendly Bikeways: Develop and evaluate projects to support the designation of Union Street NE and Chemeketa Street NE as Family Friendly Bikeways.
2. Pedestrian Access and Safety - Crosswalks and Tum Lanes: Review intersections with closed crosswalks or double turn lanes to identify the feasibility of opening crosswalks or eliminating double turn lanes.
3. Pedestrian Access and Safety - Median Islands: Identify locations for median islands to support pedestrian circulation and safety.
4. Bicycle Circulation - Bike Lanes and Sharrows: Determine locations and implementation options for using bicycle lanes and sharrows (shared lane markings) that will build on draft recommendations from the Bike and Walk Salem Plan.
5. Transit Circulation: The Transit District indicated that the current one-way system limits its ability to effectively circulate through the central Salem area because buses must approach the transit center from one of two directions. Creating more two-way streets in central Salem would support future planning for a downtown circulator. Details of how to route and fund a downtown circulator would be a separate planning effort that could build on the outcomes of the Mobility Study. Such an effort could build on past experiments by Transit and downtown businesses to operate a shuttle or trolley and the Central Salem Streetcar Feasibility Study (2005).
Minto Bridge and Path Master Plan

There is also a new Master Plan for the Minto Path and Bridge.

Its sudden appearance is quite curious, especially as there were no stakeholder committees or other public process behind it.

In fact, it appears to be a direct result of the "Flex Fund" fiasco.

Interestingly, rather than engaging the arguments against the Flex Fund application, it attempts by fiat to make the counterclaim - and with cynical circularity to be able to cite the Master Plan in future grant applications. If you can't prove something, just say it louder!

Here's a picture (not from the plan):

Here's the relevant portion of the text of the Master Plan:
Transportation Connectivity

The Bridge and adjoining trail will improve Salem's existing transit, bicycle, and pedestrian network for all residents by expanding access to transportation networks to and from downtown. By connecting major employment centers, schools, parks, commercial districts, and residential neighborhoods via a new off-street trail network, adjacent to public transit, this project contributes to the development of a seamless multimodal transportation system.

The Bridge and resulting connections provide for multimodal transportation options by “funneling” users into downtown's core within close proximity to local, regional, and national transportation modes, including Amtrak train, Greyhound bus, and Cherriots local and regional bus service, and east–west and north-south bike routes. Connection to key transportation routes is available at the southern and western terminus of the trail system, including the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway and West Salem transit center with local and regional routes (McMinnville and Newberg) and the Monmouth Bikeway.

The Bridge and resulting connections represent Salem's first off-street commuter route, connecting residences with major employment. Daily travel between South Salem, downtown, and West Salem represents a significant number of short (less than 5 miles) vehicle trips. In 2005, 33,336 employees resided within ½ mile of downtown and 125,000 vehicles per day traveled through downtown on the Marion and Center Street bridges (2005, COG). By providing a welcoming, accessible, scenic bicycle/ pedestrian connection, it is expected a variety of users will access all, or a portion, of the network for their commute....

The Bridge and Trail are expected to contribute to reductions in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and overall Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by providing a safe and enjoyable alternative to automobile travel between South Salem, downtown, and West Salem. In 2007, Salem‟s bicycle commute mode split was 1.4 percent, an increase from 2000 (American Community Survey, 2005-2007). Data from the 2011 bicycle counts and Statewide Bike Commute Challenge illustrate that bike commuting is growing. Based on data from a 2008 survey, it is expected up to 14 percent of residents will use the route for commuting, representing up to 21,700 non-automobile commuters. Significant gains in ridership are expected given the length of the planned Trail network (more than 20 miles), the dense population residing with access to the Trail, and the enhanced user comfort and safety, in comparison to existing routes.
This is just rhetoric, plainly unmoored from reality. The path and bridge do not connect "major employment centers, schools, parks, commercial districts, and residential neighborhoods."

Anyway, this is only a part of the proposed Master Plan, and it has other things to say that are quite laudable. The main problem is that the City has a consistent pattern of rebranding recreation projects as transportation ones. The City clearly intends to fund the bridge and path with "transportation" dollars, dollars that could more usefully be employed in projects that better fit the spirit and intent of multi-modal transportation grant sources.

Rose Gardens Mixed Use Zoning Change - Prelude to a Big Box?

Back in October, Councilor Dickey proposed to relax some of the zoning at the former Rose Gardens redevelopment site. The matter's been drafted as a City ordinance and will go before Council.

With zoning seeing the forest instead of the trees is always tricky for me; the minutiae are distracting. But the sense of it seems to be changing the set-back allowance to allow a parking lot in front of a development instead of the more walkable footprint of a building flush with the sidewalk with parking in back; and to permit a much larger building.

Basically, it looks like it would permit a generic big box store instead of something like Broadway Commons or a mixed-use development that included housing.

It's hard to see Portland Road there being all that attractive to a sexy mixed-use development, so maybe this makes sense, alas.

Airport Control Towers Funding

The Federal government is recommending the subsidy for the airport control tower should end, and the City wishes to lobby for its retention:
The American Association of Airport Executives has notified Salem that the Office of Management and Budget is recommending that the FAA eliminate funding to all FAA contract towers served exclusively by general aviation.

If the funding for this federal program is eliminated at any level (partial cut or entirely cut from the federal budget), the budgetary impact to Salem's Airport would be significant and it is likely that Council would have to determine whether to fill the funding gap, of as little as $100,000 or as much as $500,000, to reduce tower operation hours, or possibly cease operating the air traffic control tower at Salem Municipal Airport.
Vision 2020 and City Center

Finally, Council will entertain a resolution to adopt "the principles of Vision 2020 to help guide the City's continued planning for and future development of the City Center." Here are the five themes - what's not to like?
1. Provide places for people to live and gather.
2. Create a vibrant and active retail and dining destination.
3. Enhance the City Center image and identity.
4. Encourage opportunities for public art and artists.
5. Improve bicycle and pedestrian connectivity.
This is lovely and all, but it's not clear what difference this will make in actual fact. Still, it's nice to see some momentum continuing.

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